Weekly Geeks 2009-11: Don’t read much about history…

Ali proposed a “magical history tour” for Weekly Geeks this week, with a focus on Historical Fiction (contemporary novels with a historical setting), and offered four choices of topics to write about within that theme. I chose the second option (click on the link above to check out the others):

Do you have a favorite book that really pulled you back in time, or perhaps gave you a special interest in that period? Include a link to a review of it on another book blog if you can find one (doesn’t have to be a Weekly Geek participant).

My fiction preferences tend to lean toward stories with a contemporary setting – as I mentioned in Weekly Geeks 2009-03, many of today’s “classics” were once contemporary literature themselves, and in the same way, they become historical documents of their time if they stick around awhile and keep attracting readers. Therefore, a historical setting isn’t in itself something that draws me to read a particular novel; the story has to pull me in on its own merits. And if the storytelling plays too loosely with actual history, is too heavy on anachronisms, or it just plain wrong on some historical facts or details, I’m going to lose patience with it, frankly. I don’t necessarily look for novels that involve major historical events as plot points, but they may be important as background or context.

Then again, these days, given our short attention spans and the speed at which things change, “history” can mean two years ago. I take a longer view than that, but even so, I prefer my historical fiction to take place in the fairly recent past, and these books were enjoyable explorations of several eras of the twentieth century:

City of Light by Lauren Belfer

City of Light
, by Lauren Belfer, takes place in Buffalo, New York around the turn of the 20th century, a time when Buffalo was one of the most progressive cities in America, and leading the way in developing hydroelectric power thanks to its location alongside Niagara Falls. I read this about eight years ago and it’s stuck with me, but I haven’t come across anything else by the author.

World War I and the “Roaring ’20’s,” the period notably chronicled in the fiction of F. Scott Fitzgerald, are the focus of the novel I most recently reviewed here, Gatsby’s Girl, by Caroline Preston.

The Great Depression of the 1930’s is the backdrop to a young veterinarian’s adventures with a traveling circus in Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants.

Baker Towers: A Novel by Jennifer HaighJennifer Haigh‘s second novel, Baker Towers, follows the Novak family through the post-World War II years in the declining coal-mining town of Bakerton, Pennsylvania. This novel fascinated me as both a family saga and a story of the changing fortunes and economies of the heavy-industry towns of the Northeast and Midwest.

The Ruins of California, by Martha Sherrill, was one of my “4 out of 5”-rated books in 2008. This novel traces the complex relationships between young Inez Ruin, her father, and her half-brother. Inez’ adolescent years were just a few ahead of mine, and my own memories of growing up during the 1970’s became part of the context of the story for me.

As you can see, I’d rather not venture too far away in my historical time travels, but I do like to explore somewhat less-modern times than my own.

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  1. There has been some discussion around the blogosphere about accuracy in historical fiction. It seems to be a bit of a controversial topic in some circles. 🙂 I do enjoy historical fiction, including more recent history, especially around the WWII era. You mentioned a couple of books I am really looking forward to reading.